Police Officer Troy Zeeman was not on duty when he and his wife Shannon began dodging bullets during the Las Vegas Route 91 shooting, but that didn’t keep him from using both his training and his instincts to guide his wife, along with many others, to safety. In this episode, the Zeemans conclude their tale of escape from the shooting, giving practical tips on how they were able to keep cool heads amidst the chaos.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. I can't really say we're having so much fun. It's so important and so interesting. Sharon, you had an interesting comment because Troy's coming out at this from his training, I mean really literally decades of training, but you are not.
Sharon Zeeman: Correct. Yes, so when Troy sitting here talking about he was assessing, he knew that the shooter was not in the venue, he didn't know where, but he knew that he wasn't in the venue and he's talking about how he knew that we had time, and we could stay where we were while he was figuring it out. He was, as far as I know, he was the only one in our group that knew the person was not in the venue. We were in there for 10 minutes and, I thought the person was in there. When Troy got shot in the leg, the shooter had changed his trajectory, and so it was actually starting to hit the container we were hiding behind. So I actually visually-
Tana Amen: at first it wasn't, it was going in different directions, so you were safe for a little while and then all of a sudden he changed direction.
Troy Zeeman: We would get some errant rounds and we got some shrapnel that hit us. I got hit on almost every barrage, but it was just shrapnel, or pieces from the ground, or there'd be an errant round that maybe hit the building once that we were behind the corrugated metal. Very, very rare did the actual rounds come directly at us. Once I got shot that first barrage was right on us, and then subsequent barrages after that you could see the impact rounds hitting everywhere around us so that it was just raining down on us at that point.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Are you seeing people get shot as well?
Troy Zeeman: Not on those barrages but on the other ones, the ones prior to that when I was assessing-
Tana Amen: -you saw people going down?
Troy Zeeman: Yeah because what they would do is a lot of people would lay down on the ground when they started hearing gunfire.
Tana Amen: Which is not the right thing to do right?
Troy Zeeman: Not with a sniper, but they didn't know.
Sharon Zeeman: We thought he was in the venue, so it is the right thing to do.
Tana Amen: So get low is what you often hear, "Get down low", but he was up high.
Troy Zeeman: If you were to take a pencil, put it on a table, and look at it through the height of your eye, that would be a sniper round. Right? That would be a sniper position. If you lay the pencil down, how much more surface area do you have? So those are kind of the things that I can see, but there are also people that were running from the front of the stage to the main exit where we came out, where we came from, where we have to check in. They were actually running through gunfire because they only knew of one area to go to.
Tana Amen: That's the thing that I've always been taught, never go through the main exit where everyone else is going through, unless you are certain you can get out, but if there's another way to go, you need to go.
Speaker 5: In this case he didn't really have the main exit covered, it was just angle. The angle of his rounds were coming in between the exit and where those people were standing and so they had to run through I don't think they knew they were running through the bullets, but they were running through the bullets to get there.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Walk us through what happened so we can get to what do you do?
Tana Amen: When did you get shot? I'm still wanting to...
Sharon Zeeman: He got shot around the fifth barrage and that was when we all thought the guy was walking towards us. There was like a point where I thought I had a plan where... we talk about having plans and stuff, I had a plan where I felt like Troy wouldn't leave people, he was trying to protect them. I thought I was going to watch him get shot, how I was going to pull him out to safety, I was trying to do that. Then at another point where your fight or flight comes in and I was like, you got to be kidding me. If this guy comes around the corner, I just fought for my life for the last year. He's not taking me, I was ready to... I probably wouldn't have won, but I [inaudible 00:04:57],
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because of the breast cancer and having survived that and it's like, no, not this is.
Sharon Zeeman: My family didn't go through what we just went through to then end it here. I think that also helped me in being more of a partner to Troy and helping him get people out. When he got shot, he told me that we needed to tell people to move over like 12 inches, and the people to my right were just ghosts. They-
Tana Amen: -they couldn't move.
Sharon Zeeman: They were frozen or overstimulated, I was looking on, there were so many and they were sitting down, it was like I was yelling at them, people are getting shot and needed to move and they couldn't, and that's when I relayed to him, "they can't move", and [crosstalk 00:00:05:48].
Dr. Daniel Amen: Their basal ganglia, it's an area deep in the brain. When it gets activated, some people, like police officers and firefighters, they can go toward the fire. People like me, and I was an infantry medic, but I didn't like it at all because my first response is to freeze, and it used to make me feel bad until I realized, "Oh, that's just my brain". If you could just move your pinky, then you can move. It's like you don't have to move everything at once, you just move your pinky and then you can get activated during trauma.
Troy Zeeman: That's amazing cause that's something that we teach, I don't do it in the clinical way you do it, but I teach that because if you can make a decision, even if it's a hundredth of a second, that decision will break that freeze and you can say, "Oh, I can do this", and then move to that and then make another decision and that will keep you from getting to that point where you're frozen. We do train that, but one of the things that Shannon said was funny cause when I got shot, she yelled at me, "Did you get shot?", and I said, "No".
Sharon Zeeman: And he really thought that I thought he didn't get shot by saying no.
Troy Zeeman: I don't want her to panic.
Sharon Zeeman: If I'm asking the question, I might know.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you got shot in the [inaudible 00:07:04], is that right?
Troy Zeeman: I got shot in the right thigh. The bullet entered my thigh and broke up in there, I have like 13 pieces in my leg and eventually the doctor said that they should remove those one by one in the future. But after that, what happened was-
Tana Amen: And was it because, I'm sorry, I just have to know, was is it because it came through the corrugated metal?
Troy Zeeman: No, I was actually standing outside the corrugated metal.
Tana Amen: Because?
Troy Zeeman: It was where I needed to be so that everybody else could get their cover.
Sharon Zeeman: He was standing right on the corner of the corrugated metal so that he could see the whole venue of what was happening.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you're trying to assess the situation.
Troy Zeeman: So I'm trying to assess and then I couldn't push anybody out else out of the way.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you get shot, then what happens?
Troy Zeeman: Because the angle of the rounds started coming differently, that's when I got shot. I told everybody we need to move over a little bit. People couldn't do that, some of the people can do it, but there was about 20 people who looked at me and said, okay, we can do stuff. It was a nonverbal communication that we had, but I could tell that these people were willing to do what I needed to do to get them out. I gave some more commands and said, "We're going to move to The House of Blues, it's a covered bar, I'm just on the other side of the venue, on the next barrage, we're going to move on the next reload". Another barrage came out, we saw a lot of impact rounds, we were taking a lot of rounds, and then once that barrage stopped, I said, "go, go, go", we all ran to the House of Blues, got inside. At the point we got inside, there was more rounds coming down range, but I don't think at us. I don't think the bar got hit, I don't know, but I don't think it got hit.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So now you're in a building.
Troy Zeeman: Now we're in a building, which was much safer.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Even though you've been shot, you've able to move your body and help these people find shelter.
Troy Zeeman: Right, and then while we were in there, I told them, hold on for a second, let me check the back. I went out the back, checked that, it's a good escape route and there was an emergency exit right behind there. The gate had been opened, everybody's flooding out there, I went back in, grabbed everybody and said okay, let's get to the doorway, we got to the doorway, we made another assessment when rounds came down range and then once those rounds stopped, then we moved out.
Tana Amen: Why didn't you stay in the bar? Because you still didn't know?
Troy Zeeman: Well I knew that guy was outside the venue, but that bar is a makeshift bar, it's not real walls. So if he started targeting the bar, the rounds would still come through. So I just decided we needed to get outside the venue.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Shannon, what's going on in your head?
Sharon Zeeman: I really can't tell you. Sheer terror-
Tana Amen: Were you just on autopilot?
Sharon Zeeman: Yeah, I was, I was trying to follow anything that Troy told us. Again, I didn't understand why we were going in the bar because I thought that the person was still in the venue and he had us like hide behind a bar. A lot of my things were in my head, "Why are we doing this? Why do you have us sitting here?", but, I fully trusted him. I wasn't verbally questioning any of it and I felt like I knew we needed to get him out because we needed to find a medic for him.
It was the energy in that area, Troy talks a lot about the carnage for him, that's what resonates with him, for me it was the energy of the whole experience. It was just so heightened your whole body, every time I talk about it, even right now, I feel that whole vibration goes through my body and I think that it was very consuming, is that you were just on autopilot like you say, just trying to survive and get out. By the time we got out of there, every time we'd find a paramedic or something like that for Troy, there would be people that were so much more worse than he was. So we'd just keep on moving and of course, Troy being who he is, we're not going down the main areas. We are traversing alleys and we're going over fences, because he is like you can't go the masses, because we still didn't know if it was one person. By the time we got into Hooters and somebody started screaming, "Active shooter", it was a very high stress again, even though Troy was like there's not an active shooter, you still have...
Tana Amen: It's that survival.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It is changing your nervous system. There's a fascinating book on why zebras don't get ulcers. In the sense you're having your zebra moment where the lion is chasing you and the lion wants you as lunch, but why zebras don't get ulcers is their nervous systems can go back quickly. But, if you have a year where you've just been fighting cancer, that's not like a single episode where the lion's chasing you, it's like the fricking lion is chasing you for a year, and if you've been a police officer for 20 years, then your nervous system has been heightened with all of the things that you've seen and experienced because this is not the first traumatic event that you'd seen or you experienced, right?
Troy Zeeman: Right.
Tana Amen: But it did give you an advantage.
Troy Zeeman: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, clearly a tactical advantage where, that's really the hero part where you were able to save the lives of those people who are dependent on them. It's interesting when we come back, I want to talk about, "Okay, well what's the fallout?", for both of you personally. Then let's talk about how we met, and then you guys come into the clinic and the difference-
Tana Amen: and I want to talk about strategies just a little bit.
Sharon Zeeman: Yes, I think that's important for people.
Troy Zeeman: Great.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us.
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